How to keep up with demand when your company is short-staffed


At some point, your organization is likely to face issues with adequate staffing levels. There are a few best practices that can reduce some of the stress and unnecessary business disruption.

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Image: Abscent84, Getty Images/iStockPhoto

Most start-ups understand the pains of working short-staffed, and during COVID-19, this has become a reality for almost every company and institution around the world. While this can’t be completely avoided, putting some best practices in place can help to ensure there is minimal disruption.

Prioritize your product and service offerings

Hospitals, care centers, grocery chains, logistics, and delivery service providers, and many online retailers were among the first to feel the pain of failing to keep up with demand. Delivering on all services was no longer an option. Setting top priorities was and still remains a key strategy in being able to effectively deliver the services that are most needed. 

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In hospital and care settings, doctors, nurses, care-aids, and administration or maintenance staff have been taxed just keeping up with essential tasks and have had to shift from doing everything to focusing on critical care. Grocers, pharmaceutical companies, online retailers, and delivery services have been prioritizing their stock and supply chain to get personal protective equipment (PPE) to hospitals or care centers and food to people, especially the most vulnerable. If your company is short-staffed, focusing on essential high-demand products that customers need vs. want may keep your operations afloat. It’s better to excel at delivering fewer products and services than to fall short on trying to deliver everything.

Adjust your expectations

When short-staffed, your most valuable asset, your people, shouldn’t be overworked trying to keep up with unrealistic expectations. Reevaluating priorities about product and service offerings isn’t’ the only thing that is needed. Your expectations for perfection in areas of the business should also be temporarily adjusted. If perfection about the quality of a flagship product is the basis for your business, then focus on that, especially if the item involves safety. 

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Let your employees know what’s a top priority and ask them to put their best into that product or service rather than asking them to put their best into everything. Employee burnout is real, especially during the pandemic where it has and still is impacting employee mental health. Burning out your employees just exacerbates the staffing situation and increases the likelihood of losing more staff due to frustration. Be realistic and fair about expectations: It can help your company and employees ride-out a storm together.

Leverage technology

Technology is the great equalizer for most businesses. This is why software-as-a-service (SaaS) has been booming, and these companies continue to grow. The SaaS market is expected to grow to $20.21 billion dollars by 2022, with technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) that simulate human intelligence processes leading the way. AI isn’t meant to replace the workforce, but instead automate repetitive tasks that enable employees to focus on projects and work that require high-level thinking. 

Talk with your employees and customers 

One of the biggest and best practices in dealing with low staffing levels is communication. Talking with your employees about the situation—giving your and getting their views—and strategies for coping with work demands is key. Your customers should also be kept in the loop. Keeping lines of communication open and being transparent makes it easier for everyone to understand the limitations and the timeline for resolving issues. Avoid the temptation to say nothing, hoping no one will notice: This strategy almost never works. Asking employees and customers for input can help your company better understand the things that should be a priority. Think of your employees and customers as partners in success.

Prioritize your product and service offerings, adjusting expectations, using technology, and communicating frequently with employees and customers can reduce the impact of being short-staffed. Although these best practices aren’t a guarantee of success, they are tools available to increase your company’s productivity where it matters most. 

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